Diversity and difference

Mark Kriewaldt shares the fruits of some heavy thinking and talking on how the men's movement can reach out and become more inclusive.

What is diversity? How do the ways we construct our identities relate to diversity…and vice versa? How can we foster diversity and respect difference in pro-feminist politics - in our theory, personal lives and in activist groups?

The last issue of XY explored cultural diversity. A few days after that issue was published, a group of men from around the country met at a camp outside Adelaide to discuss various issues facing pro-feminist men and the work we do. (See here.)

I was fortunate to be in a small group discussion on "Diversity and difference" with Colin Charles, Stephen Fisher and Brook Friedman. This article records our thoughts about different kinds of diversity and how they relate as well as some general principles and specific ideas for fostering diversity and difference in pro-feminist men's communities.


We quickly realised that we had to think about diversity - there are many areas of diversity that we must be aware of, respect and deal with if we are to create truly representative groups.

These diversities we identified include sexuality, race/ethnicity, class, age, ability, politics, knowledge, religion, language…and we suspect there's many more. We worked out four important points about the relationship between different diversities.

First, we were aware that these diversities are not separate, that they intersect, that none of them exist in a vacuum. We cannot just think in terms of "we need to reach more working class (or gay, black etc) men" without realising that there is an enormous diversity of "working class men". Sexuality, ethnicity, and all the other diversities exist within "working class men"; class, ethnicity, and the other diversities exist with "gay men"…and so on, for all of the categories of diversity.

Second, oppression exists against people in each of these categories, and this must inform our behaviour when we approach, talk with and work with these men. If there are differences in power, we need to acknowledge these and that we are speaking from a position of privilege.

Third, these various forms of oppression are linked - they all exist in unison and support each other. Any understanding of power and oppression must recognise this intricate web and we must be prepared to work against all of these forms of oppression.

Fourth, we need to realise that because communities are not homogenous, there are conflicts within and between communities. We need to be aware of the political rifts within gay communities, religious differences between ethnic communities, and so on. Any work we do must be aware of these differences if we are to be respectful.

General principles

Don't make assumptions about people different from yourself - people from other ethnic backgrounds, people with other abilities etc - even informed assumptions can be wrong. Talk (and listen!) to the people you're making assumptions about. Not only will you find out their experience, but you'll be inviting them to view you as an ally.

Work respectfully with other people and groups, using concepts of invitation, collaboration, and accountability.

We should be aware of our imperfections and limits. We don't know everything and we need to keep this in mind when dealing with other individuals and groups. They may know some things we don't - we need to be open so they can tell us. We may know some things that they don't - we need to be modest enough to tell them in ways that empower and educate, not show-off or deny access to information.

Fostering diversity

Here are some of the strategies we came up with for fostering diversity, but first, I should relay two points of Stephen Fisher's. One, these should not be seen as ways to avoid conflict and debate, but as means for understanding and negotiation. There are many views other men hold that we may want to disagree with, but to be able to talk with them in any meaningful way we must understand them first. Two, Stephen suggested that some of these points should actually be presented as dilemmas, not solutions or strategies. I agree with him, but for time and laziness reasons, I haven't amended my original list. So after reading these points, go back over the list and preface each point with "How should we…?", "How can I…?". (This approach may be a useful starting point for workshops or brainstorms.)

  1. Recognise our own diversity. We thought a good starting place was to look at the diversity that does exist. Pro-feminist men are not a completely homogenous group. By ignoring the differences that do exist, we actually marginalise some men (for example, working class and gay men) and miss great opportunities for learning.
  2. Explore our own diversity. We (pro-feminist men) should tell our own, and listen to others', stories. This will help us form communities, and is a way to look at how the diversities that do exist have informed our (individual) politics and can inform our future (collective) politics.
  3. Look for existing links to other communities. For example, some pro-feminist activists lament that there are relatively few gay men in pro-feminist politics, but ignore the many gay and bisexual men who are involved, and how they could help make links to the gay community.
  4. Look at how existing practices may actually be excluding some people. I've had a few gay men tell me that they did not feel comfortable around heterosexual pro-feminist men. They said this was not due to homophobia as such, but their hyper(het)masculine go-go-go. (In other cases, we may be excluding gay men through heterosexism: I'm still amazed at how much of our literature, speeches, conferences, etc assume that men are in heterosexual relationships. I know I'm guilty of this myself, despite that this is a real bugbear of mine, and that I'm bisexual.)
  5. Make links with individuals, and see where this could go at an organised, political level.
  6. Make links with other groups and organisations, and see if personal friendships evolve.
  7. Consciously invite people from other backgrounds to join our groups and campaigns. (Yes, actually go and ask them.)
  8. We should try to go "mainstream" more. This may sound contradictory because the idea of diversification usually means reaching out to cultures outside of the mainstream. But mainstream men's culture has still not picked up on pro-feminism in any meaningful way, even though many "mainstream" men may (individually) agree with its main points. So we need to not only target politically astute young radicals, but really connect with mainstream men. And we must remember that just as there is no one group of working class or gay men, there is no one group of mainstream men.
  9. Learn lessons from the feminist, gay, black and other communities about dealing with diversity. Talk to feminists and others, read books about the histories of these movements, and read current books and magazines to learn about current issues.
  10. Use ethnic, gay, and religious media to discuss issues, inform them of our campaigns, and invite them to be involved - if we don't, we ignore that some of these people don't read mainstream media, or that reading something in a medium very personal to you will carry a different weight than something in mainstream media. Obviously, we need to do this respectfully and realise that this may not be appropriate in some situations.
  11. Don't appear to be the only voice speaking in a leadership role (be aware that your credibility, access to the media etc may actually be due to your position of privilege). For example, it may not be appropriate to speak out on an issue, but rather to facilitate discussion amongst another group, to support them in this, and to build this into an ongoing dialogue. In doing so, we would actually be fostering relationships across differences that would help both groups learn (so the content and the process would actually be better).
  12. Run workshops for people in other social movements. People involved in ethnic, green, gay and other political movements will have different understandings of gender politics (some may have very little understanding) and they may like to learn about pro-feminism - how it relates to their lives, and how it can inform their politics. We should actually plan these workshops with the groups we are trying to reach, for the political reason that we respect any diversity and difference, but also for the pragmatic reason that the workshops will be more effective if planned this way.
  13. Provide forums for different groups (who aren't necessarily political) to meet and structure those meetings to effect political change. For example, bring the local sportsmen's and sportswomen's associations together to discuss an issue of importance to them (why their funding is different) in a new (political) way, or suggest a broader topic to discuss (what is sexism and how does it affect them).

A special case

One of the most difficult areas of diversity and difference is within the "men's movement" itself. Here, men who call themselves pro-feminist and those who don't (some even call themselves anti-feminist) curiously exist alongside each other under the one ambiguous umbrella term.

Whether we should consider ourselves part of the "men's movement" or men involved in the feminist movement is open to debate; either way, we should be trying to reach out to all men if we are to really deal with diversity and difference.

One way to start this process is for pro-feminist men to develop an alternative discourse on men's pain and "oppression": a clear and accessible way for thinking about this popular topic (including looking at whether terms like "pain" and "oppression" are even appropriate).

This should be grounded in a more general analysis of the effects on ourselves and others of dominant forms of masculinity and how this affects gender relations. This analysis would then be relevant to all men, not just men who currently are interested in men's "pain". For men who do feel they are "hurting", we need to speak with them, and help them deal with what is very real for them, in a way that doesn't disempower them (as much of current men's pain literature ironically does) and doesn't lead them to victim politics, which is almost always at women's expense.

We should provide them with the tools to move on - a political framework in which to make change - unlike much current thought and writings on men's pain.

Personalise the theory

One of the main things to come out of the weekend was how we need to personalise the theory we're so fond of sprouting. We need to personalise it for ourselves, by asking the hard questions, like: "Where do I fit into all this? What implications does this have for my own behaviour and ways of relating to others, right here, right now? How can I make personal links and then work for political change?" We also need to personalise it for other men. How are we to reach other men unless we speak to them, in their own language, about things that are real for them? How can we expect other men to change, unless we speak personally about our lives, and then suggest practical ways that they can change?


I should note that the points in this article came from all four of us, but that the writing is mine. The others may therefore not agree with some of my wording, emphases, and interpretations. I incorporated some of their responses to an early draft of this article, but I didn't understand or agree with some of their more major questions; I'll leave these for them to explain.

About the Adelaide sessions

Thirty-five or so women and men attended two days of workshops in Adelaide, hosted by the Dulwich Centre, an independent therapy centre, in the first week of December last year. The men then went off for two days of discussion south of Adelaide, returning for a final evening session with the women, who had continued to meet over this period.

The bulk of the twenty men attending were pro-feminist activists, with the majority involved in Men Against Sexual Assault groups around Australia. The women attending came from therapy, feminist, lesbian, Aboriginal, educational and anti-violent groups or networks in Adelaide. These sessions were the outcome of a series of conversations over the last three years among half a dozen women and men, about gender, pro-feminist men's activism, working in partnership and related issues.

What is "accountability"

Processes of accountability are a way of responding to the power differences between groups of people - white and black, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual and so on.

Accountability is a tool for addressing injustice, based on the position that the best knowledge of an injustice comes from those who have experienced it. Accountability processes are designed so that groups which have been marginalised and oppressed can have their voices heard.

Accountability structures can involve a variety of group processes and arrangements. In one model, members of the oppressed group meet; when ready they meet with members of the dominant group, who listen to their concerns and respond.

The impact of accountability processes is described by Chris McLean: "[A]ccountability is essentially an ethical process. It brings together groups of unequal people who speak from positions of unequal power and who have diverging experiences. It enables dialogue to occur where it has frequently been impossible, and enables trust to be built where it has previously been broken. The collective nature of discrimination in our society is recognised, and members of the dominant group are challenged to address it collectively rather than individually. Most importantly, it allows the voices of marginalised groups to be heard when they have so often been silenced or ignored. This is not an easy process and involves considerable levels of vulnerability and trust on both sides."

Therapists and activists in Adelaide are exploring the use of "partnership accountability", as are some Men Against Sexual Assault groups. Accountability ideas and processes are examined more fully in the Dulwich Centre Newsletter's special issue on "Accountability: new directions for working in partnership", Numbers 2 and 3, 1994. The above is based on this discussion.

See Accountability: New Directions for Working in Partnership (Dulwich Centre Newsletter 1994 nos 2 & 3), and The Partnership Way: New Tools for Living and Learning, Riane Eisler and David Loye (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco 1990)

For more information, contact Dulwich Centre Publications. Hutt St PO Box 7192, Adelaide, SA 5000. Phone [08] 223 3966. Fax [08] 232 4441.

First published in the magazine XY: men, sex, politics, 5(1), Autumn 1995. XY, PO Box 26, AINSLIE, ACT, 2602, AUSTRALIA. Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 1995